The Sable is a barrel-chested rotund antelope with a long face, short neck, and dark mane. They have impressive ringed horns rising vertically to curve backwards. When arching their necks and standing with their heads high and tails outstretched, these antelope look like horses. In this position they appear larger than they actually are. The males keep this position even when galloping, the arched neck being important to manifest dominance. Sables change color as they grow older. Calves are born with a reddish-brown color and virtually no markings. White markings appear as they grow older and their coat becomes darker, and the older the animal is, the more striking is the contrast.
Sable antelopes live in the southern savannas of Africa from the southeastern part of Kenya, in eastern Tanzania, as well as Mozambique to Angola and in southern Zaire, mostly in the Miombo Woodland Zone. They prefer a mixture of grassland and savanna woodlands. Dry season feeding areas are grasslands that were once flooded then burned, producing new growth. They avoid vast open lands where possible.
Sable antelope are nocturnal as well as diurnal, preferring to feed until just before dark to avoid predators. Most antelope will travel about a mile each day, even less when it is the dry season. They live in herds numbering 10 to 30 individuals, typically females with their young with one male leader. Just a few only of the most dominant mature males can obtain and hold territories, which they try to set up in the best grazing areas, because the better the feeding prospects, the more females will be attracted to the area. These animals are timid like most other antelopes but will become aggressive, particularly the males, which can become dangerous if attacked or approached.
Sable antelopes are herbivorous. They are specialized browsing animals and feed upon foliage, leaves, medium length grass, and herbs, especially those growing on termite mounds. The leaves of trees provide 90% of their diet.
Sable antelopes are polygynous. Dominant males defend group of females and their foraging territory, which can extend 300 to 500 meters from the herd. The dominant males vigorously defend the females in their harem against intruding males. The breeding season extends from May to July. The gestation period is around 9 months and a single calf is born, which is then left hidden in the bush or tall grass. The mother returns once or twice each day to suckle her young. In a couple of weeks, the calf will be strong enough to join the herd. Weaning occurs 6 months after birth. Breeding for females starts at 2.5 years old, for males at 5 years old.
Humans are the Sable antelope’s only real threat. The giant sable antelope subspecies is listed as endangered because of trophy hunting and habitat loss. Studies show that malnutrition, disease and habitat quality also have limited Sable antelope numbers.
According to the IUCN Red List the total Sable antelope population size is around 75,000 individuals. Currently this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) and its numbers today remain stable.
These antelope assist to cycle plant/grass nutrients into further areas. The young serve as prey for large predators.